Personal Growth

What to Do When Your Loved One is an Alcoholic

What to Do When Your Loved One is an Alcoholic
When you are in the midst of the empty bottles, broken promises, and never-ending lies due to a loved one’s excessive drinking, it can feel like you’re all alone in the world. The shameful and sinking feeling that someone might find out the horror you’re experiencing can make you want to crawl into a hole. You are not alone.

In the United States, more than 17.6 million people suffer from alcohol abuse and misuse. A person suffering from alcohol addiction directly impacts between five and eight people in his or her immediate circle. Therefore, around 88 million Americans are in your shoes—baffled, hurting, and confused over this complex disease.

So, what can you do to make your loved one stop drinking and arrest the hurt that it’s causing you and your family? You’ve thrown out the alcohol. You’ve begged, pleaded, screamed, and threatened but nothing seems to work. There is a way out, but it’s going to look different than anything you ever imagined. Here is your step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Recognize That You’re a Good Person … and So Is Your Alcoholic

If you are a family member, lover, or friend of an alcoholic, chances are you are a good person with good intentions. Remember, this disease is insane. It attacks the brain of the person you love and makes them crazy and irrational, but not all the time. As you will begin to understand, when learning more about alcoholism, you are truly dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But it’s not completely their fault either, the person you love is very, very sick.

Many books on alcoholism give advice to stop enabling the alcoholic, and that’s sound advice. However, I’m here to tell you that you should never feel guilty about anything you have done to help your alcoholic in the past. After all, being a good person, you would always help or lend a hand to anyone else in your life that needed help, right? People who enable or who are co-dependents, as many coin the term, are compassionate, empathetic people. People like you are caretakers. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Step 2: Understand the Top 2 Downfalls of Helping Your Alcoholic

Established in the fact that you are a compassionate, loving, and empathetic person who finds it easy to care for others, try to understand the downfalls of helping your alcoholic.

Your alcoholic friend or family member has a disease that counts largely on consistently getting large amounts of alcohol and/or other drugs as the disease progresses. His or her emotional maturity stopped at the point at which he or she began abusing alcohol. His or her only goal is to get more alcohol to satisfy the drive within him or her. In doing so, he or she will neglect any and all responsibilities to cater to the drive to drink. This is where you come in.

The more you do for a friend or family member, the less he or she has to do for himself/herself and the more he or she can keep drinking and make himself/herself sicker. So, by doing more for him or her, you are actually prolonging the disease. He or she needs to experience consequences and stand on his or her own two feet. Yes, he or she is sick. But if you protect him, you are really protecting the alcohol, not him. Even though the brain function is severely modified, he or she has to somehow have that light bulb switch go on in his or her head that says, “Whoa, something is way out of control here.” And that can only happen if he or she experiences all and every consequence of his or her drinking.

The second downfall is that you become so absorbed in what he or she is doing, that you forget yourself. The disease spins life so out of control; that any normal person would try to pick up the pieces and put it back together. However, as long as he or she is still drinking, you can’t. No matter how hard you try, you can’t. You need to take care of you. That is the best thing you can do for your alcoholic.

When I asked the question, to my now alcoholic friends in recovery, what advice they would give to family and friends whose loved one is still drinking, they almost all answered unanimously, “Stop enabling.”

Step 3: Learn How to Stop Enabling

Here are ways in which you can stop enabling:

  • Stop covering up his or her behavior.
  • Do not give money to him or her ever—not even a dime.
  • Tell him or her that he or she cannot stay at your home until he or she gets help to get sober.
  • Do not nag, plead, or lay on guilt trips.
  • Do not make excuses for his or her behavior.
  • Do not call his or her work and give an excuse for why he or she is not there.
  • Call the disease by name to other family members and friends. If you fear the word “alcoholic” has too much of a negative connotation, use “the disease of alcoholism” or “my loved one is addicted to alcohol.”
  • Do not believe his or her lies.
  • Don’t enter into an argument or a discussion when your loved one has been drinking.
  • Do not undress him or her if he or she is passed out, do not clean up his or her vomit, do not move him or her into bed, etc. Let him or her see and feel the consequences of passing out from drinking.
  • Treat your alcoholic with respect. He or she is a human being who deserves your respect.
  • Do not take any of his or her behavior personally. This is not about you. He or she has a disease. This is his or her own internal battle.
  • Never accept physical or emotional abuse. Walk away and get out.
  • Do set boundaries and keep them. If you say, “No!”, keep it a “No!”.
  • Never join in on the alcohol party, even if he or she begs you. Your clear statement should be, “The alcohol is killing you. I love you too much to let this substance kill you.” Even if this statement is non-verbal, let your actions show it.
  • Do not buy him or her alcohol, drugs, or any other substances.
  • Get help with a psychotherapist who specializes in addiction and/or attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Step 4: Separate the Alcoholic from the Alcoholism

As a loved one of an alcoholic, you must, as much as you possibly can, separate the person from the disease. I understand that this feat is much easier said than done. Calling him or her bad, horrible, a demon or every profane name in the book will not help. Making fun of him or her, shouting, or physically hurting him or her will not make him or her stop drinking.

The disease is maddening because of its cunning nature. It appears at times that you are dealing with a normal, functioning, rational person. Your alcoholic loved one may go to great lengths to make you believe he or she is normal and well functioning. And he or she is extremely convincing. The reason you have had such a difficult time separating the alcoholic from the disease of alcoholism is because you have frequent seemingly normal interactions with him or her. Then like a light switch, it flips and you are dealing with a whole different person. As they say in recovery groups: love the person, hate the disease.

Step 5: Find Hope for the Hopeless

I have hope. I have hope. And when I feel weak, I have hope again. All you can have in this disease, for your loved one, is hope. Just like the alcoholic in recovery, you need to turn to your Higher Power for help.

In Al-Anon family groups (, recovering family members follow the same 12 steps that Alcoholics Anonymous follows. It’s a powerful set of steps and calls on you to surrender to your Higher Power.

Alcoholics do enter recovery and get sober. However, your job as someone who loves an alcoholic is to get into recovery too. Nurture yourself and learn the steps you took, consciously or unconsciously, to contribute to the dynamic dance of addiction. Then, learn new tools to have a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with your alcoholic loved one and others, whether your alcoholic is still drinking or not. Finally, the Serenity Prayer is a wonderful tool used in all 12-step groups to help put things into perspective on a daily basis.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

--Reinhold Niebuhr, Serenity Prayer

This article was taken from excerpts taken from the book, Help! I Think My Loved One Is an Alcoholic: A Survival Guide for Lovers, Family, and Friends.

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